S Michael Caputo serves as heart of No. 23 Wisconsin defense
MADISON, Wis. (AP) The player who serves as the heart of Wisconsin's defense speaks with the authoritative voice of a general, and wears a scowl on his face on the field.
Senior safety Michael Caputo fits the role of captain perfectly for the 23rd-ranked Badgers.
''It's been a pleasure to coach Michael Caputo,'' said defensive backs coach Daronte Jones. ''His football IQ. The toughness that he brings, the leadership that he brings. He's one of those rare guys that you find.''
A three-year starter, Caputo and fellow senior Darius Hilary have been two mainstays in a secondary for defense that has had three head coaches during their careers in Madison.
Now, Paul Chryst is coaching the Badgers. Most of the rest of the coaching staff, including Jones, are wrapping up their first seasons, too, at Camp Randall Stadium.
''Yeah I took a lot from the three coaching staffs that we had,'' Caputo said this week with a laugh. ''It was good.''
Except there has been one very important constant the last three seasons in defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. The Badgers have the nation's stingiest defense in points (13.1 points), and third stingiest in yards allowed (267.1).
Caputo is usually right in the middle of the action.
''Stats are one thing, and then intensity ... tackling,'' Caputo said. ''Just tackling the right way, not missing tackles.''
Caputo has a non-stop motor. Jones said that it carries over into practice, so much so that they have had to nudge him to dial it back a little to save wear and tear.
''It's not a matter of having to go out and prove yourself on a daily basis,'' Jones said. ''But I like that about him because he feels like he has to prove himself day in and day out.''
Caputo is fairly well-rounded, too. He lists hobbies including drawing, sketching and camping. Back home, he has taken up his family's interest in making wine.
He's also into boxing, which shouldn't be a surprise given his attitude on the football field.
''He's a pretty intense guy,'' said fullback Derek Watt, a fellow senior.
Caputo has 237 career tackles in 52 games, including 39 starts, going into his final collegiate game on Dec. 30 at the Holiday Bowl against Southern California.
He's got 18 pass deflections in his career, four forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and three interceptions. He's strong against the run.
Caputo's value to the defense was evident in the season opener against Alabama, when he got knocked out early after suffering a concussion. His presence was sorely missed with the Badgers having trouble slowing down Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry.
Caputo and Tanner McEvoy ended up being an effective combination at safety, with the athletic, two-way McEvoy handling deep coverage. Hilary and Sojourn Shelton gave Wisconsin experience at cornerback.
Only Shelton will return next season, so Caputo served as an unofficial assistant during early bowl practices for younger players who will take more responsibility next season.
''Like I told them, bowl prep is a big time to set it up for spring ball,'' Caputo said. ''Let the coaches know this is what you've got, this is what you can do ... learning a couple different things, maybe technique stuff.''
They had an ideal role model in Caputo.
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